“Facts and the truth are not partisan. They are the bedrock of our democracy. And you are either with them, with us, with our Constitution, our history, and the future of the nation, or you are against it.” – Dan Rather, former anchor for CBS Evening News
It’s been said that we live in a post-truth America. The unprecedented practice by the Trump administration that labels inconvenient truths as ‘fake news’ has undermined the work of every writer who’s still doing credible journalism. But on the other hand, corporate media has not fulfilled its democratic responsibilities for a free and open press. Too often the media under-reports or simply ignores essential news stories. And of course the media distracts and misinforms the public with its own barrage of spin and propaganda.
In an age when we have access to unlimited information through the web, how is it that we find ourselves in our currynt predicament? There’s many underlying causes here. The priority of profits over people by media is a huge conflict of interest. And the lack of media literacy studies available in our nation’s schools has meant that the internet’s promise of a well-informed populace has gone largely unfulfilled. People need instruction on how to think, not what to think.
I grew up during the sixties watching the ‘CBS Evening News’ with Walter Cronkite and then later with news anchor Dan Rather. Oftentimes my family would watch television as we sat down around the kitchen table to eat dinner. I never questioned the accuracy or truthfulness of the stories that Uncle Walter and Dan brought into our home each night – or whether there might be another valid point of view besides that dispensed by American media. For the last century, the establishment media has been the filter for learning about the world around us. Although the number of broadcast media outlets has grown exponentially since the sixties, rarely has the institutional filters been as narrow, sensational, manipulative, and jingoistic as they are today.
To make matters worse, newspaper newsrooms across the country have been systematically hallowed out as their print ad revenue has largely been captured by Facebook and Google. The old business model isn’t working anymore for local for-profit newspapers and their remaining assets are often up for sale to the highest corporate bidder. Small communities will suffer until non-profit web-based news reporting can grow into the new public watchdogs needed to monitor political and corporate corruption.
Most Americans still receive their information from traditional news sources delivered through television, radio, and newspapers. These news outlets have become less trustworthy during the past decades of deregulation which allowed for aggressive media consolidation. Today there are just six giant media corporations — General Electric, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS — that control over 90 percent of what we see, hear, and read in the U.S. And the lack of enforcement of anti-monopoly rules has allowed for further consolidation.
These corporate behemoths have all the resources at their disposal to employ legends of reporters and to fund investigative journalism so as to protect the public interest. But this giant media system wasn’t constructed for that purpose. Its function is to protect a wide range of corporate interests – and to make a lot of money. The media leaves unexamined their underlying biases for promoting global finance capitalism and the policies of American neoliberalism. The pursuit of increased economic growth at the expense of the health of a finite planet is updated gleefully in daily Wall Street dispatches.
In the past, public media has managed to exist outside the for-profit system. But with the drastic reduction of their funding at the state and federal level over the years, NPR and PBS have had to adapt many of their productions to receive necessary corporate funding. As a result much of public media has become more like corporate media in their news coverage. Listeners must endure the establishment views of Wall Street and corporatist ideology, along with endless reports of terrorist attacks and Iranian fear mongering. When the experts are called upon to comment, they too often speak for conservative beltway think-tanks, or for the Pentagon and State Department. Seldom do we ever hear a voice advocating for peace and nonviolence on our airwaves.
The free press, the watchdog that was empowered by the First Amendment has been neutered and turned into a lapdog that is used and abused by those in power. It’s not surprising that the U.S. dropped sharply to 49th position in last year’s rankings of each country’s press freedom compiled annually by Reporters Without Borders. And countries around the world are all experiencing commercial limitations on press freedom from consolidation by multi-national media companies. They have enabled the recent take-overs of governments by right-wing corporate forces in Brazil, Argentina, and Honduras.
The Top Censored News Stories of Last Year
The work of Project Censored has grown in importance over the decades. Each year the Project researches, analyzes, and compiles the twenty-five most important censored news stories and offers scholarly analysis and critiques. The project was started in 1976 at Sonoma State University as a media research program with a focus on student development of media literacy and of critical thinking skills as applied to the news media. The project defines censorship “as the suppression of information by any method – including bias, omission, underreporting, or self-censorship – which prevents the public from fully knowing what is happening in the world. “
Below are this year’s top ten stories from Project Censored ranked in importance in descending order. In addition, I’ve selected a few other stories from the remaining 25 Censored Stories. To read the full list visit the website at http://www.projectcensored.org.
– More than 3,000 neighborhoods across the U.S. had levels of lead poisoning more than double the rates found in Flint, Michigan. It took activists in Flint more then two years to get the attention of the press and of the governments to recognize the scope of the problem. When the story became a national crisis effecting a half a million children, the media gradually lost interest in following the story into hundreds of poor communities. The costs of infrastructure replacement of the nation’s antiquated water pipes would cost a trillion dollars. The establishment press would rather focus their attention on war and the need for more military spending than report on the health hazards faced by millions of Americans.
– According to a recent report by the Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General (DoDIG), over the past two decades the US Army has accumulated $6.5 trillion in expenditures that cannot be accounted for. The Congress has enacted legislation that requires all government agencies to undergo annual audits. But the Pentagon has exempted itself without consequences for the last 20 years, telling the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that collecting the required information is too costly and time-consuming. Meanwhile Congress has rewarded the military’s corruption and illegalities by more than doubling the Pentagon’s budget. In a recent development, The Defense Dept comptroller appointed by Trump, David Norquist, has stated that the first agency-wide financial audit of the DoD in its history will be conducted in 2018. You can bet that the report will paint a pretty picture. Let’s hope that the mainstream media will finally pay attention to the topic.
– The establishment media completely ignored the story that the Department of Defense secretly used taxpayer dollars to hire a U.K. publicity firm to produce fake Al-Qaeda videos made to appear like real Arabic news stories as well as insurgent videos to propagandize to the world. The media’s mission is to enhance, not undermine, the public’s trust in the military.
– This was the first presidential election in fifty years without the full protections guaranteed by the Voting Rights Act. They were taken away by the Supreme Court’s ruling that stripped decades of federal protections. Last yin an orchestrated attempt to suppress the African-American vote. The topic of gutting the Voters Rights Act was not brought up once by the media during the 26 presidential debates. And yet broadcast media later devoted hours to Trump’s absurd claim that the election was rigged against him.
– The world could be faced with drug-resistant bacteria that have been cultivated by the overuse of antibiotics and spread throughout the world. There is little coverage by the media about the threat of superbugs brought on by the irresponsible pharmaceutical industry and the treatment of humans as well as the mega-doses administered to livestock in concentrated animal feedlots.
– U.S. Navy training activities are deadly for marine mammals in the North Pacific. In a five year period, The Navy has killed, injured, or harassed whales, sea lions, and porpoises nearly 12 million times. In addition, the use of harmful low-frequency sonic sonar by the military and by private contractors to map the ocean floor for fossils fuel extraction has been well documented. The media ignores these criminal infringements on oceanic life. Their allegiance is to the military state.
– Inadequate health care in rural areas and racial disparities are drivers of a national health crisis. Without the needed doctors and dentists in rural areas, working class people and the poor put off needed preventative care. The organization Remote Area Medicine is a non-profit that offers alternative care. Medical staff and volunteers travel to poor communities throughout Appalachia for weekend health clinics that will treat thousands of people without compensation. If the media were to investigate the work of this organization and report on these clinics around the country, it would expose the critical need for universal health care.
– Fossil fuel interests dominate energy and climate policy research at the nation’s most prominent universities, including Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and the University of California, Berkeley. The outward appearance of neutrality and integrity provided by the halls of academia belies the true nature of industry funded projects. The corporate funding of academic research is massive and reaches into the labs of every department within our nation’s universities.
– Young plaintiffs have invoked their Constitutional rights in the groundbreaking case brought against the government by a dozen young people. Their complaint states that the defendants “deliberately allowed atmospheric CO2 concentrations to escalate to levels unprecedented in human history.” The filing has been winding through the courts with little interest or coverage by the media. In December, oral arguments were heard by judges in the Ninth Circuit Board of Appeals. The youth plaintiffs argued their case for the future wellbeing of their health and livelihood, while The Trump administration argued for the dismissal of the case.
– Facebook knows more about you than you think they know. Facebook has upped the ante in the peddling of their users’ data and habits. For the last five years Facebook has been buying sensitive data about users’ offline lives from data brokers and combining this information with their own extensive data for sale to advertisers to target consumers.
– The new regulations for the internet made by the corporate controlled FCC has stripped away years of vigilance by grassroots organizations to keep the internet a fair playing field for all players, big and small. The new FCC ruling gives control to the giant ISPN monopolies like Cox and Verizon to determine which websites and streaming services receive preferential speeds and which websites will receive a slow down. This complex ruling was not adequately presented or explained to the public by big corporate media like MSNBC – owned by ISPN provider Comcast. These companies have a vested interest in the corporate domination of the internet. Lawsuits against the FCC and the public lobbying of Congress are the only options that the public now has to keep the internet neutral.
We have a crucial need in this country to cultivate media literacy so that we may better determine where to go for the news and opinion that we can trust. In an era when many Americans are now sourcing much of their news and information from Facebook, Youtube, late-night comedy shows, and ultra-partisan news sites – there is an imperative for citizens to use discretion, ask the right questions, and do the needed analysis.
Fortunately we have an emerging ‘networked 4th estate’. The worldwide web has allowed for numerous alternative news outlets. There are many independent non-profit news sources that receive no corporate funding. These are trusted sources for news and opinion and can be found online. These organizations include Democracy Now!, The Intercept, The Ralph Nader Hour, ProPublica, The Center for Media and Democracy, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), TruthOut, TruthDig, Alternet, and Reveal (The Center for Investigative Reporting). They feature some of the best journalists working today including Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Seymour Hirsch, Norman Soloman, John Nichols, Greg Palast, John Pilger, Chris Hedges, Amy Goodman, Juan Gonzalez, and Noam Chomsky.
The documentaries that are featured at the Naro by independent journalists and filmmakers offer a critique of American society that frequently counters the official establishment narrative. Our film programs offer speakers and discussion in an ongoing effort to raise media literacy in our community. We will get back on track with our Wednesday night ‘New Non-Fiction’ film series once again in February.
And in the meantime we continue our public forums and audience discussions on Sunday mornings in the new Winter Season of FirstLook Film Forum that meets on ten designated Sunday mornings for the area premieres of acclaimed new dramas and comedies. Join a group of cinephiles for the 18th season of the Film Forum. Winter Season starts Sunday morning, Jan 14. Get details about subscription Forum memberships and playdates at www.narocinema.com